Publication date: 18/12/2018
 
Update on 19 December 2018: Mohammed al-Qahtani was released from solitary confinement following a 48-hour hunger strike.    
 
Imprisoned human rights activist Mohammed al-Qahtani transferred to solitary confinement
 
On Monday 17 December, Saudi Arabian authorities transferred imprisoned human rights activist Mohammed al-Qahtani, who is serving a ten year prison sentence in al-Hair prison near Riyadh on charges relating to his peaceful human rights work, to solitary confinement. The reason for this is unknown.
 
At around 18:30 GMT (21:30 in Saudi Arabia) the same day, Maha al-Qahtani, wife of Mohammed, was informed that her husband had been transferred to solitary confinement just minutes earlier. ALQST has no further information about the transfer as of yet, and Mohammed al-Qahtani’s location remains unknown. 
 
Solitary confinement cells have often been the site of torture and ill-treatment in Saudi Arabia. Mohammed is without legal representation, with his lawyer arrested in May.
 
ALQST Director Yayha Assiri, said: “This measure against Mohammed represents the latest in a never-ending cycle of cruel and vindictive measures taken against human rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including arbitrary arrests, unfair trials and sentences, and torture and ill-treatment in prison. 
 
Mohammed is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and association. He must be released immediately and unconditionally”. 
 
ALQST call upon the Saudi Arabian authorities to disclose information about Mohammed’s whereabouts, and to immediately release him from solitary confinement and prison.
 
We also urge international actors, including NGOs, the UN and governments, to monitor developments relating to Mohammed al-Qahtani closely, and to continue to call for his immediate and unconditional release.
 
Background 
 
Mohammed al-Qahtani is an academic and a human rights activist, arrested and sentenced solely for his work in the field of human rights. In 2009, he co-founded the Association for Civil and Political Rights (ACPRA), an NGO that was established to promote human rights in Saudi Arabia.
 
Mohamed was arrested in June 2012, among a wave of arrests against Saudi human rights activists. He faced eleven charges, all related to his activities in the field of human rights, including “establishing an unlicensed association”.
 
In March 2013, the Criminal Court in Riyadh convicted Mohammed, sentencing him to 10 years in prison and a further 10 year travel ban upon his release. Fellow ACPRA co-founder Abdullah al-Hamid was also sentenced to a five year imprisonment.
 
In November this year, Mohamed and fellow Saudi human rights activists Abdullah al-Hamid and Waleed Abu al-Khair were awarded the Right Livelihood Award, known as the “Alternative” Nobel Prize, for their courageous work defending human rights.
 
In June 2016, the United Nation Committee against Torture (CaT), the independent body that assesses state implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, expressed its concern at reprisals against and harassment, intimidation and arrest of human rights defenders and journalists and that Saudi Arabia had refused to grant operating licenses to ACPRA, as well as other NGOs that had objected to government policies on the basis that they are inconsistent with human rights principles. The CaT urged the authorities to acknowledge the legitimacy of peaceful criticism and advocacy related to treaty violations but also to release any individual detained solely for peaceful criticism or human rights advocacy.
 
In March 2018, the Saudi Arabian authorities wrote to the UN, denying that that it had arrested anyone in connection with the peaceful expression of their opinions and insisted that all arrests were undertaken in accordance with Saudi Arabian law. The letter did not recognise that administration of justice in Saudi Arabia does not meet international standards.
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